Apple’s beloved MagSafe connector could make a comeback

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Here's how to hack the new MacBook's power chime onto the Aiir and Pro. Photo: Apple
MagSafe is gone but not forgotten. Not at Apple, anyway.
Photo: Apple

Apple is exploring charging cables that attach to its devices with magnets. This is highly reminiscent of its discontinued MagSafe system.

Previously, this was a great way to keep MacBooks from being accidentally damaged but Apple stopped using it during the company’s transition to USB-C.

As Apple points out, when a USB-C cable is inserted into a MacBook or iPad, and something happens to yank on that cable, “the plug connector can be pulled in a direction that it is not intended to travel, thereby causing physical damage to the plug connector and/or the receptacle connector.”

In worst-case situations, the computer can be pulled off a desk or table, smashing to the floor.

Magnets to the rescue!

Apple just received a patent for “Smart Charging Systems for Portable Electronic Devices.” This describes using magnets in cables to prevent damage if they get yanked on.

Or, as Apple puts in, “The smart charging system includes a magnetized connector and a charging component that can be configured to dynamically attract and repel the connector to and from the portable electronic device.”

And the patent takes the word “dynamically” to heart. Apple envisions the system taking an active part in disconnecting itself if an accident occurs. “The connector can be disconnected from the portable electronic device by the charging component before the jolting event occurs.”

In addition, this proposed system might include haptic feedback to notify the user that a good connection has been made.

MagSafe was only for MacBooks, but the new version might have a much wider reach. The patent says this magnetized charging system could be used with “a smart phone, wearable device, smart watch, tablet, personal computer, and the like.”

Difficulties lie ahead for MagSafe 2

The patent Apple applied for covers a charging system held together with magnets. Transferring data doesn’t get mentioned at all. The original version of MagSafe also just handled power, but it was replaced with USB-C that can transfer both data and power.  It’s believed one of the reasons Apple didn’t extend MagSafe to the new connector is it limited the speed of data transfers below what USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are capable of.

Attempts by third-party accessory makers to re-create MagSafe have run into limitations in bandwidth. Some of their offerings did not even attempt to transmit data, just power.

But innerexile seems to have found a way. Its ThunderMag system is a pair of magnetized break-away connectors that fit o the end of a USB-C cable, and the inventor claims there’s no data or charging slowdowns. If a third-party accessory maker can accomplish this then Apple surely can as well.

That said, this is only a patent application, not a product announcement. It’s possible this research might not ever become a product.